Puzzled

Most of the time I am not puzzled by a call (or non call) on the field. This is not the case with this play:

I cannot for the life of me see how this is not a runner’s lane infraction. Here is the rule (6.05 (k) in old format):

6.05 A batter is out when—

(k) In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball;

The guys who do MLB are 800x the umpire I am. But, I read this rule and cannot figure out why the runner is not out. Give the umpire credit for good game management though. Whatever he said to the Boston manager placated him enough to get back in the dugout.

Interpretations of this rule state that a “quality” throw has to be present to get this call. That is, there can be no interference if there was no chance at an out. Maybe from his angle, the home plate umpire did not feel this was a good throw.

I would love to hear the explanation so I could learn from it.

Runner’s Lane Interference is covered along with a multitude of other topics in RuleGraphics. Find more information at our website.

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The rules versus the “rules”

I already posted about the runner’s lane once this week. As a reminder, here is the high school rule (8.4.1 (g)):

The batter-runner is out when:

g. he runs outside the three-foot running lane (last half of the distance from home plate to first base), while the ball is being fielded or thrown to first base;

1. This infraction is ignored if it is to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field the batted ball or if the act does not interfere with a fielder or a throw.

2. The batter runner is considered outside the running lane lines if either foot is outside either line.

Since I returned to umpiring 2 years ago (this is the beginning of my third), I have worked about 120 games. I have called this only once. I worked a scrimmage this week and as chance would have it called a player out due to this.

The runner was well outside the running lane. A throw hit him in the back. Sounds like an easy call right?

Except there was a wrinkle. After more research and discussing with other umpires, i realize this wrinkle made my call incorrect.

The play started with an uncaught third strike. The ball bounced into the foul territory down the first base line. The catcher throwing from foul ground to the first basemen set up in foul ground hit the runner running in fair ground. The ball crossed the line to hit him. In other words, the throw was not true.

Going back to the rule book, the language in the exception 1 says the infraction is ignored “if the act does not interfere with a fielder or a throw”. The runner did not interfere. He just got hit by a bad throw.

Each call on the field is a function of two things: rules and judgement. On this call my rules knowledge was fine – I know the runner’s lane rule. But, my judgement was horsecrap. Part of the bad judgement came from a very common cardinal umpiring sin – bad timing. I saw the ball hit the runner and threw up my hands to kill the play too quickly.

That painted me into a corner. Taking an extra split second to think about all components of the play (especially the relationship of the runner to where the throw was coming from would have helped). The good thing is I am a member of an association  that takes the time to teach new guys these skills.

The book Outliers hypothesized to master a craft 10,000 hours of experience needs to be logged. Given my day job, it is going to take me time to get to 10,000 hours of reps on the field. My strategy is to make up for that by becoming really good with the rules. Someone can learn the rules at home through effort – it is a little harder to find a game to ump all the time.

This is a reasonable strategy. But, taken to the extreme I might become what they call a “rule book Charley”. That is someone who applies rules blindly without exercising good judgement around the intent of the rule. Of course good judgement comes from experience and experience is built from bad judgement. And experience is what I continue to get taking all the games I can get and supplementing it with clinics and scrimmages.

Lots of lessons learned in this one through the discussions here and on my association’s FB page. At the end of the day, my goal is the same as it is for life in general.  When a mistake is made – figure out why and don’t make the same mistake again.

I kicked this one. I am not happy about it but cannot linger on it either. If this is the worst thing I do all season – that is a hell of a season.

The CEO of the company I worked for a few years would end each speech with a quote that is apt here – “only the humble improve”. That is certainly apt in umpiring where you see something new each game.

Runner’s Lane Interference is on page 45 of RuleGraphics. 

Stay in your lane

Runner’s lane interference is a controversial call. The problem with this call is that usually it happens as the ball is bouncing away from the fielder. One team is all excited thinking they will get more bases on an overthrow only to have a umpire killing the play.

Rule 6.05(k) covers runner’s lane interference. In a nutshell, the runner has to be on the foul side of the line when running the last half of the distance to first. That is why that “lane” is on the field.

To be considered in the lane, both feel have to be it. A foot on the line counts as being in the lane. If a runner is not in the lane and interferes with a throw, he is out and the ball is dead.

The one sticking point against this rule is that the base is in fair territory. How can a runner be expected to run in foul territory if his destination is in fair? The rule interpretations allow for the last step to be outside the lane to get to the base. This is only allowed if the runner had been in the lane up to that point.

This rule is pretty much the same in all codes. One small difference is the quality of the throw. In MLB, the throw has to have a “reasonable expectation” to get the runner. This provision is not in the high school rules.

Few other things about this play:

  • Awesome hustle and call by the home plate guy. He was right on top of it, made a strong call and sold it well.
  • The announcers were on top of this as well. They pretty much nailed the explanation. This is a rarity.
  • Notice the first basemen also was on top of it. He immediately points out the interference as it happens. Again a bit of a rarity.
  • Not sure why the manager got ejected. This was a textbook example of a pretty easy to understand rule. I think sometimes managers think they need to be tossed on something controversial to stick up for their team.

This play does not happen much, but it is something that umpires should always be looking for. I did a scrimmage game last night and actually had this play.

Runner’s lane interference is covered on page 45 of RuleGraphics